Culture Wars Between Hong Kong and the Mainland

A YouTube video last week showing an altercation on Hong Kong’s mass transit subway between a mainland family and local commuters has sparked angry denunciation of Hong Kong people as ‘dogs’ and ‘trash’ by a Beijing university professor, pointing up the continuing cultural differences between the two societies.

Professor Kong Qingdong of Peking University has a reputation for regressive views forcibly expressed in foul language on campus and on TV talk shows. The angry six-minute video has gone viral and has sparked equally angry replies from Hong Kong residents.

Apart from claiming direct lineage from Confucius as a 73rd generation descendent, Kong inspired the Confucian Peace Prize awarded to Vladimir Putin last year. He appeals to the doctrinaire Maoist remnants of the Party and champions Confucian authoritarianism while the rest of China moves on.

Rule of law for 'trash' societies

Kong dismissed the rule of law as a colonial mechanism to beat Hong Kong residents. He also slammed Singapore for its laws on smoking. He equated both as inferior people who need to be whipped into correct behavior. The need for the rule of law, he said, is evidence of 'trash' societies.

"Speaking of the rule of law, the British brought it there and let it stay. How did the British deal with these Hong Kong dogs? They gave them a good lashing. They lash them harshly. Today the Beijingers would say that these people f-----g deserve a physical lashing."

When the talk show host commented that the environment is cleaner in Hong Kong, the professor's retort was "Why is it cleaner? Because they rely on rule of law. They do not rely on the quality of the people. Just like in Singapore, you are fined 5,000 dollars for smoking. When you have to resort to the legal system to maintain order, it shows that your people have no quality and no self-consciousness. You won't do what you are supposed to unless you get a beating. This is summarized in one word: Trash."

The resentment spilled over into the pages of Asia Sentinel as well, starting last week when Alice Poon, a widely respected, long-time blogger and author of Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong, wrote an article exploring the gap between Hong Kong residents and mainlanders, only to be hit with a torrent of abuse and personal insults. Also last week, more than 1,000 people gathered in front of a Dolce & Gabbana store in Hong Kong, protesting a supposed ruling that mainlanders and foreign tourists were allowed inside. Whether it was true or not, it quickly spread online, forcing the store’s manager to close early.

Eating not allowed on MTR

The regulation forbidding the consumption of food and drink on the MTR, which kicked off the altercation when the family began to eat on the train, is largely followed by Hong Kong commuters. Perhaps the mainland family members weren’t aware of it. Perhaps they chose to ignore it. The eating of noodles and the spill-over onto the floor of the carriage provoked the argument. Harsh words were exchanged, caught on a cell phone and spread virally on YouTube.

'Teacher Kong' continued to castigate Hong Kong for being ungrateful and lacking patriotism. "Hong Kong has been returned to China for so long already but their hearts and minds have not returned yet. There are still plenty of running dogs for the colonialists. In front of them they are dogs but in front of mainlanders they are wolves."

But it isn’t just Hong Kong. The impoverished farmers and fishermen of 19th-Century Guangdong and Fujian provinces ventured out to Southeast Asian shores and the Americas in search of better lives for themselves and their families. Their descendants over several generations have established successful trading businesses and have grown up with freedoms of travel, expression and opportunity not yet available in the land of their forefathers.

The imperial rulers in Beijing regarded southerners historically as disloyal and unpatriotic for leaving. The Shanghainese are viewed as too commercially driven. The fortunes and better lives the southern emigrants built abroad has been a source of resentment ever since.

The south has been the hotbed of anti-imperial and anti-feudal sentiment and revolts. The nationalist republic of Sun Yat Sen which was declared at the end of dynastic rule, was financed and harboured in the South. The challenge to Mao's communist forces was led by Chiang Kai Shek from his Shanghai stronghold. It was through the ports of Canton and Shanghai that Western trade negotiated Imperial China using local agents and collaborators.

The press and magazines in Guangzhou and Shenzen continue to push the envelope on media commentary about policies and personalities.

Failure to use Putonghua

The Cantonese defeated the British in one way consistently - they refused to use English as the language of the streets through 150 years of colonial rule. In darkest Africa, the English language took root easily under British administration. The fierce adherence to native dialect and culture continued in Hong Kong under British rule and Guangdong well after the Communist revolution of 1949. Cantonese literature, movies, music and songs continues to thrive locally and abroad as the most successful linguistic creative export to the diaspora.

The central government in the mid-1980s, from sheer frustration, denounced "the 50 million laggards in the South who refuse to speak Putonghua." Cantonese enthusiasts on the other hand argue that it is the closest dialect to Tang dynasty Chinese, still retaining ancient Chinese expressions, while the seat of power in the north has been heavily influenced by Mongol rule, culture and language.

Mainland births to secure Hong Kong residency

There is continuing mutual resentment about mainland women using loopholes in Hong Kong's immigration processes to gain residency rights for babies born in local hospitals. That surge has displaced many Hong Kong mothers from access to maternity facilities at public hospitals.

While a quota has been declared to manage the competitive balance in public and private hospitals, middlemen have schemed to use 'emergency' access to defeat regulatory control. Instead of pre-booked and scheduled deliveries, heavily pregnant mainland women are sneaked past immigration and rushed into emergency wards. Immigration personnel trained to intercept these cases are now being deployed.

There is political pressure to seek another "interpretation and change of the Basic Law" to bar mainland babies from the residency qualification. The Hong Kong administration is reluctant to hot-foot to Beijing for 're-interpretations' which would tatter the already fragile Basic Law. They are seeking cross-border co-operation to stop the middlemen and the abuse of the existing channels for agreed mainland immigration quotas.

That says more than all Professor Kong's denunciations of Hong Kong, when mainland mothers risk their lives and that of their unborn babies, to secure their children a better future in the HKSAR.